Compiling a top ten list of submarine classes isn’t difficult given the submarines vital role in the military dates as far back as WWI. A class is assigned to a single design that is used to build several submarines. With each subsequent build, improvements and modifications are often incorporated, making later models far more effective than the ones preceding it.
The top ten submarine class list below is presented in alphabetical order.
Gato Class – The Gato Class from the U.S. were responsible for much of the damage encountered by the Japanese merchant ships during the war. These submarines were not only well-armed, they were also fast and had a good range. Armament on the Gato class included ten torpedo tubes – 6 located on the bow and 4 on the stern. The torpedoes were capable of travelling up to 20 knots on the surface and close to 9 knots when submerged.
George Washington Class – The George Washington class was the first U.S. nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine. The USS George Washington was ordered in on December 31, 1957 and commissioned two years later on December 30, 1959. The nuclear propulsion of the George Washington allowed it to remain submerged for months at a time without surfacing. A total of five subs were built in this class and each was armed with 16 Polaris missiles.
Seawolf Class - The Seawolf Class are the most expensively built submarines in history. At an incredible $4 billion each, these subs were not only exceptionally fast, they were also extremely quiet. The class was designed to track and destroy Soviet ballistic submarines. However, with the diminished threat from Soviet submarines at the end of the Cold War, the high cost for the Seawolf Class caused its program to be discontinued after the first three were built and delivered.
Sentoku Class – This unique aircraft carrier capable submarine from WWII belonged to the Imperial Japanese Navy. At 6,500 tons, the Sentoku class was close to three times larger than the U.S. Gato Class. These subs carried three M6A Seiran floatplanes, each equipped with three topedoes. When they subs surfaced, the floatplanes could launch from catapults. Afterwards, the Sentoku class could quickly re-submerge.
T Class – The backbone of the WWII submarine force for the British, this Triton Class sub was armed with 10 torpedo tubes. The one disadvantage to the armament of the Triton was the torpedoes only fired forward, compared to most submarines at that time with tubes located in the bow and the stern.
Type XXI U-Boat – The Type XXI was an Axis boat whose only benefit to the Allies was the fact it was introduced too late in the war to see combat. The batteries on the Type XXI allowed it to remain submerged for days. This U-boat also was outfitted with a snorkel – a device that allowed it to recharge its batteries while remaining below the surface. With a top below surface speed of 17 knots, this U-boat was faster than most of the surface warships.
Typhoon Class – This Soviet built submarine class is the largest in the world. Despite its large size, the submarine is noted for being quiet and difficult to detect. The Typhoon Class subs are armed with 20 SS-N-20 ballistic missiles each equipped with numerous nuclear warheads. The Typhoon class also carries anti-ship guided missiles and torpedoes. Their multiple pressure hulls add overall strength to this boat.
USS Nautilus – The USS Nautilus was the world’s very first nuclear-powered submarine, a power which allowed it to remain underwater throughout its entire voyage. On its first voyage, the USS Nautilus remain submerged for its 1,100 nautical mile trip, making it the longest recorded submerged cruise up to that time.
X-Craft – Built and used by the British as special attack subs, the X-Craft was a special class of midget submarines purposed for specific attack assignments where harbors were heavily defended, making it difficult to launch a more conservative submarine attack. They would sometimes be towed by larger boats to a specific area where they would be released and make their way towards an intended target. Once the target was reached, the crew of the X-Craft would plant explosive charges and then return to the larger tow boat.
Though it is difficult to compile a definitive list of top ten submarine classes, no one can doubt that each class listed here has certainly contributed to the continual improvement and success of the ever evolving submarine.